John Kelly Says Trump Family Must Be ‘Dealt With’ in White House
(Bloomberg) -- Former White House chief of staff John Kelly said members of President Donald Trump’s family serving on the White House staff needed to be “dealt with” as he sought to implement a more orderly process in the West Wing.
“They were an influence that has to be dealt with,” Kelly said Tuesday during an interview on Bloomberg Television’s “The David Rubenstein Show,” when asked whether it was complicated to have the president’s family working at the White House. “By no means do I mean Mrs. Trump -- the first lady’s a wonderful person.”
Kelly’s remarks pointed to his long-running and low-simmering frustration with the role of the president’s daughter, Ivanka Trump, and her husband, Jared Kushner, in the White House. The Washington Post previously reported that clashes between the president’s family members and senior advisers came so frequently that the relationship became uncomfortable.
In the interview, Kelly did not mention the couple by name.
Congressional Democrats are currently investigating whether Trump ordered Kelly to grant the couple security clearances despite the recommendation of career officials against doing so.
The interview took place in Las Vegas where Kelly had gone for the SALT Conference, an annual gathering organized by former White House communications director Anthony Scaramucci. Asking Scaramucci to resign after a controversial -- and abbreviated -- tenure was among Kelly’s first moves upon becoming chief of staff, and his appearance at the conference has been billed as a chance for the two to make up.
In the interview, Kelly said that while he had to remove a few “very disruptive” people upon arriving in the West Wing -- and was struck by the “intense personal ambition” of some staffers -- that he believed he was able to unite White House staff around a mission of supporting Trump.
“I was able to staff a president the way I think a president should be staffed,” Kelly said, while conceding that the job was among the hardest he had ever held.
Kelly left the Trump administration at the end of last year, after nearly two tumultuous years leading the Department of Homeland Security and then the White House. His acting replacement, Mick Mulvaney, has criticized Kelly’s handling of the chief of staff job, saying the retired Marine Corps general often depressed morale by complaining about the difficulty of working for the president.
Kelly said he believed that by implementing regular processes to vet possible decisions, he was able to better serve Trump. Before his arrival at the White House, he said, the “right level of staff work wasn’t done” on certain policy issues, including a zero-tolerance immigration policy that led to family separations.
Kelly also defended his policy of limiting access to the Oval Office, saying he was simply trying to make sure Trump heard all sides of an issue before coming to a decision.
“It was never going to be a one-sided conversation,” Kelly said.
Kelly also discussed one of the most controversial moments of his tenure at the White House -- the president’s reaction to the violence that occurred after white nationalist protesters marched in Charlottesville, Virginia. A counter-protester was killed by an avowed white supremacist who drove his car into a crowd of people near the rally site.
In remarks shortly afterward, Trump said he was concerned not only by white supremacists but the actions of “alt-left protesters,” adding that there were "very fine people on both sides" of the conflict.
Kelly said Trump was trying to say “that there were good people in the crowd.”
“Whether that was articulated properly, I don’t know,” Kelly said.
But the former White House chief of staff went on to say that he believed the “press has to do the best they can to be as responsible as they can be” and suggested that the media took sides in the controversy over the president’s comments.
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